19th July 1822. Flagrante delicti.

A rare record of transvestism and homosexuality from late Medieval England is revealed in 1395, when in the presence of John Fresh, Mayor and the Aldermen of the City of London that, ‘John Britby of the County of York and John Rykener calling himself Eleanor having been detected in woman’s clothes….[having] committed that unmentionable and ignoble vice’. (sic)

500 years later immorality was still in vogue as Today a Friday in 1822, Percy Jocelyn, the Anglican Bishop of Clogher, whose stipend was the then princely sum of  £20,000, and guardsman John Moverley, went to the White Lion Public House St Alban’s Place in the Haymarket, London, and there in a back room were found flagrante delicti.

Cartoon by Cruickshank of Bishop of Clogher and the soldier, a case which inspired cartoons, pamphlets and limericks.

The good bishop originally a member of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, had also revived an earlier society for the reformation of manners, was eventually deposed.

He spent the rest of his days abroad avoiding justice, and living as a menial in Edinburgh, ending his days in Ireland, with the dubious accreditation of being the most senior churchman in the 19thc to be so convicted.

Acts of immorality were dealt with by Ecclesiastical Courts until Henry VIII’s 1533 ‘Acte for the Punishment of Buggerie’. The Act was replaced by the Offences Against the Person Act 1828, but continued to be a capital offence. (1)

The later 1885 Act was called the ‘Blackmailers’ Charter’; ten years later Oscar Wilde brought an action for criminal libel against Lord Queensbury (Sholto-Douglas), who had publicly accused the writer of ‘posing [as a] somdomite’. (sic).

It arose because Queensbury was angered by Wilde’s relations with his son, Lord Alfred Douglas. As witnesses showed that Wilde had been involved in such activities, he lost his case was bankrupted and died penniless in Paris.

Queensbury who planned to disrupt the performance of Wilde’s, ‘Importance of Being Ernest’, by throwing a bouquet of rotten vegetables on the opening night at the St James’ Theatre in February 1895, continued to harass Wilde, who launched a private prosecution for criminal libel. However the trials and notoriety saw the play end a year later.(2)

Even as late as the early 1950.s homosexuals were persecuted: the scientist, Alan Turing was chemically castrated, later to commit suicide, whilst Lord Montague suffered imprisonment.

The 1885 Act was repealed in part by the Sexual Offences Act 1967 when homosexuality was decriminalised.

History repeated itself in the second decade of the new Millennium when the Bishop of Gloucester was jailed for historic offences against juveniles, whilst the Catholic Church was embroiled in multiple cases concerning senior clerics.

(1) 25 Henry 8c 6.

(2) Opening night on 14th February 1895.

The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogen Hotel was made into a poem by John Betjeman. Wilde was convicted for two years with hard-labour in Reading Gaol.



A.H. Thomas’ Calendar of Common Pleas in 3 volumes of London 1381-1412. CUP. 1924-32 is the standard reference with a massive amount of information.

For the Rykener case he recorded the minimal example of 2 men charged with immorality one of which implicated several persons male and female of religious orders (p228).

The above to avoid copyright law, the authors had to transcribe from the original document and then translate into modern English from the Latin.



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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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